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Author Page for Dave Brockington

Born in San Jose, grew up in Seattle, received a Ph.D. in poli sci from University of Washington, worked for three years at Universiteit Twente in Enschede, Netherlands, and have worked at the University of Plymouth for eight academic years now in Plymouth, United Kingdom.

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2014 House Prospects, Shutdown Edition

[ 25 ] October 8, 2013 |

Still aren’t good.  As though all the conditions faced by Democrats heading into November 2014 aren’t cause for enough pessimism, including an electorate composition that favors Republicans given reduced turnout in mid-term elections, the marginal gains for Republicans derived from gerrymandering, and the penalty the incumbent party in the White House enjoys, especially one running a net-unfavorable approval rating, apparently the Democrats are having difficulty in recruiting quality candidates to take on Republican incumbents in marginal seats:

Altogether, Democrats aren’t yet poised to mount serious challenges to a clear majority of the Republicans running on competitive turf, let alone actually win. So you should probably take this morning’s PPP poll with an additional grain of salt: it’s about how House Republicans would fare against a “generic” Democrat, not the mediocre one they’ll face in 2014. Perhaps the shutdown will trigger a wave of GOP retirements and Democratic recruits. But without both, Democrats will probably crest short of 218.

While some hold a naive belief that the hilarious self-destruction of the House Republicans will push the Democrats to the required net gain of 17 seats in order to reclaim the House, I’m as unconvinced today as I was 10 months ago when I wrote the following:

Even if structural conditions are solid and a tailwind is at the back of the Democratic Party in 2014, lower turnout, the historical penalty suffered by the incumbent party, and the Republicans’ built-in advantage of redistricting for the next ten years makes aspirations of gaining seats, let alone reclaiming the majority, a wildly optimistic expectation.  Simply engaging a GOTV operation of similar size and efficacy to 2012 would stretch the budget for a mid term election, and even then the return on investment probably won’t be as impressive considering that it’s more difficult to persuade casual voters to get motivated for a mere Congressional election.

Had the current edition of Republican extortion occurred closer to the election, then this might have helped at the margins, but even then, not 17 seats worth.  However, assuming this is resolved without the fun and games of a global economic meltdown, the great shutdown of October 2013 will be a distant memory in both as a motivation to turn out, and as a decision rule once one has bothered to vote.

Remember, last November, Democrats only out-polled Republicans in House elections by 1.7 million votes on 48.3% (compared with 46.9%) of the vote, and Republicans still won 234 seats.  The conditions in 2012 were theoretically vastly superior to anything we can expect in 2014. That slender 1.7 million vote plurality contrasts markedly with the 6 million vote advantage the Republicans had in 2012, or both the 13 million and 7 million vote win that Democrats enjoyed in 2008 and 2006 respectively.  Again, I’d love to be wrong, but I think the Seattle Mariners have a much better chance at a winning season in 2014 than Democrats in the House elections.

The Shutdown and Political (Mis)Calculation: Some Numbers

[ 19 ] October 1, 2013 |

The headline charitably assumes that there is any calculation involved here at all. Just yesterday I read a column or post somewhere (I thought it was Krugman, but I could not locate it this morning) that points out how can we assume that the faction in question of the party of the one of two houses in one of three branches of the Federal Government has (paraphrasing, not quoting) “any realistic idea about the global economic effect of a United States default, considering that they nearly universally do not believe that global warming is due to human cause, and hell, most of them don’t even believe in evolution”. I’m confident that one of our readers with a memory better than my own (which describes, well, the overwhelming majority of you) will remember who wrote that line.

We all suspected it, and now we have some empirical support for our suspicions: the Republicans are severely hurting themselves in holding the Senate and the President hostage in order to overturn a law nearly four years old, one upheld by the Supreme Court about 15 months ago:

“Americans were against a government shutdown as a way to stop the president’s health care law from taking effect 72 percent to 22 percent in a Quinnipiac poll. The more than three-to-one ratio was despite a near even split on Obamacare itself, with 45 percent support to 47 percent opposition.”

I don’t doubt that it’s a wide margin, but caution should be applied in interpreting this Quinnipiac poll. RCP currently has eight different polls on public approval for Obamacare, and the other seven range from -10 to -19, making the -2 reported above a clear outlier. The average of the eight polls is -12, but dropping this one it goes to -13.4. Lacking copious amounts of spare time, I can’t discuss whether bias (assuming that’s what this is) is limited to this one item, or if it’s a systematic sampling issue that undermines the entire poll, but somewhat temper your excitement at these numbers. That said, the Obama approval numbers are more in line with the current average. This poll has his approval at -4, while the spread of the eight most recent on RCP is an astonishing +3 to -16, with an average of -6.5. While there might be some systematic bias in the sample, it very well could be the one item on support for Obamacare specifically: question wording, question placement, etc.

Other interesting findings from this poll include 17% approval rating for Republicans in Congress (compared to 32% for Democrats), and a generic 2014 House vote intention of 43% to Democrats, 34% to Republicans. If this is a strongly Democratic-leaning sample, then we can shave some of that margin; likewise, this won’t hold for 13 months, and the Republicans have a modest built-in marginal advantage in translating votes into seats in House elections for the foreseeable future.

Here is a cool map and story locating the “suicide caucus” both geographically and demographically. Again, no surprises: the 80 signatories to the Meadows (NC-11) letter to Boehner insisting that Obamacare be defunded live in a different country to the rest of us (well, when I’m actually living there instead of in the UK), and one that’s lily white and getting whiter, unlike the country writ large. In this sense they are behaving rationally, embracing the delegate model of representation by serving as little more than ciphers of public opinion back home, rather than Burke’s favored trustee model. The punchline to the linked story is “In previous eras, ideologically extreme minorities could be controlled by party leadership.” It should have been left unsaid that now these ideologically extreme minorities control party leadership.

Indeed, while we can’t expect members of the suicide caucus to take Burke to heart, maybe the Republican leadership ought to, if not now, then in two weeks’ time when the debt ceiling is held hostage yet again:

But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

Vaguely Organised Musings on the Value of Blogging for the Academy and Academics

[ 8 ] September 1, 2013 |

Over at Monkey Cage, Andrew Gelman has an excellent piece on how post-publication peer-review works (and doesn’t) in the blogosphere. One of the central themes (to me) is how complacency can be part of the process. This, of course is not limited to the post-publication phase of research dissemination and consumption. Any academic here can tell you stories of referee reports that lacked a clear understanding of one’s manuscript to the point where it seemed possible that the report was the result of a skim job. Likewise, while I’ve been told by my superiors up the British university chain of command that I spend too much time on accepting and writing such reports[*], there have been times when four or five have stacked up in my queue that I know that there have been more than one where I did not feel as though I was as thorough as I might have been.

The Gelman piece reminded me of a post of Rob’s from earlier this year. I agree in the main with Rob’s arguments, with one caveat that applies to both the political scientist as blogger as well as post-publication peer review writ large: the blogosphere is ephemeral. Whereas a journal article (both print and most e-journals) is tangible, replete with an ISSN identity, what I’m writing right now isn’t. A blog post isn’t as fleeting as a tweet (unless you’re, say, Anthony Weiner), it is less concrete than a publication. This caveat applies independently to the Gelman and Farley posts, as the subject of each serves a different purpose, but ultimately it serves as a minor limitation to both.

Given this, I agree with what Rob wrote all those months ago:

Core argument is this: Sides treats blogging (and what I tend to think of as associated “public intellectual” activities) as adjunct to a successful political science career.  I, on the other hand, think that we should take seriously the possibility that these activities should become the main course of a successful career in political science (and other fields).

Save that I don’t think “public intellectual activities” should replace publication, but co-exist on a relatively equal level. As one who does a bit of media (it pays to have my accent in the Southwest of England. Well, it doesn’t pay cash money, but you know), I’d place blogging above media appearances; a five minute interview is more ephemeral than this very post (for better or worse). I’ve turned the process around a bit; in a few months I have a paper (which coincidentally cites Gelman) coming out in a solid third-tier journal that began life right here as a post on LGM.

However, if we really want to make this stick in terms of professional currency, we need some sort of institutionalisation of output. It could be as simple as unique ISSN numbers for various blogs, better indexing of authors / posts, etc. I don’t have many answers on this Sunday afternoon, but these are a start. For the vast majority of blogs an ISSN serves little more than vanity, but for academia it’s subtly different. In the United Kingdom, with our slavish, methodical accounting of research output via the RAE/REF, an ISSN/ISBN is requisite for credibility.  EDIT: I honestly don’t know how prevalent this is in the academic blogosphere, if it exists at all.

[*] Indeed, if I don’t have the time to do a credible job, I’ve been known to let a manuscript slide into perilous delinquency. There’s at least one from earlier this summer that might match this description.

This Week in Misogyny, Montana Edition

[ 135 ] August 29, 2013 |

I’m surprised I missed this one.  The story — a Montana high school teacher, now 54, pleads guilty this past Monday to raping a 14 year old student at his high school in 2008. The prosecution seeks a 20-year prison sentence. Montana District Judge Todd Baugh, accepts the defense argument that the rapist, Stacey Rambold, had suffered enough. The sage judge suspends all but 31 days of the 15-year sentence he applies.

His reasoning? The victim was ”just as much in control of the situation” as her rapist, and was “older than her chronological age.”

A 14 year-old student at the high school where our rapist du jour worked as a teacher is not even marginally in control of the situation.

If this sounds all too depressingly familiar, it’s because it bloody well is:

The judge sentenced the admitted abuser, Neil Wilson, to a mere eight months in jail. However, believing this too harsh, suspended the sentence for two years, commenting that “the girl was predatory and she was egging you on.”

The girl, 13. The abuser, 41.

The only substantive difference between the two cases is that in Montana, at least the prosecution attempted to, you know, prosecute.

I’ll grant that writing such posts does not require an undue amount of intellectual overhead, but this pattern is maddening. One case in England, one in Montana, both judges blind to reality. I’ll repeat myself: a 13, 14 year old girl is just that. A child. Not predatory, not egging you on, not partially in control of this or any situation, and not older than her chronological age.

The Montana judge, however, is clearly older than his chronological age of 71.

[SL]: Emily McCombs with a powerful piece explaining why no 14-year-olds are “consenting” to sex with older men.

“We have laws and we need to follow those laws and that’s where we’re at.”

[ 54 ] August 18, 2013 |

Unless you’re our Republican asshole of the week, Rep. Scott Desjarlais (TN-4).  If it merely seemed like Desjarlais is a nasty piece of work for, you know, sleeping with patients and smoking pot with one of them (which, while famously legal in WA and CO, remains a behavior unendorsed by the state of Tennessee), and strongly encouraging one extra-marital hookup to have an abortion (something he, of course, opposes), elevation to hallowed asshole status is here achieved.

It takes a lot of courage for an 11 year-old to ask the honorable gentleman from Tennessee, during a town hall meeting, if her father might be able to stay with her even though he lacks the necessary documentation. It took him approximately zero seconds of self reflection to respond.

But at least he knows that God has forgiven him.

So, too, has his tea-party audience.

Texas Admits to Partisan Gerrymandering as Legal Defense

[ 72 ] August 15, 2013 |

In an article that I’d have thought I wrote if the byline hadn’t told me otherwise, Allen Clifton at Forward Progressives is suitably amused by the legal strategy of the State of Texas to avoid having the entire state returned to DoJ pre-clearance under the VRA. According to a brief filed last week, Texas is claiming that it discriminates against Democrats, not against any given race. Clifton outlines the hilarity that ensues:

Another part of Texas’ argument seems to be that even if their new voting laws do happen to disenfranchise minorities—it’s really not that big of a deal.  Because the events of the 1960′s were much worse.

Let that sink in for a moment.

A state openly admitting that they redrew district maps to purposely split up and weaken the Democratic vote (something we all knew Republicans were doing but had yet to hear admitted publicly), claiming that even if their new voting laws did happen to disenfranchise minorities from voting that it isn’t that big of a big deal because “the 60′s were much worse.”

Basically, “Yes, we’ve been trying to rig elections along partisan lines and even if our new laws might target minorities in a way—at least we’re not doing what they did in the 1960′s.”

I wasn’t sure what to do with this — yes, of course Texas gerrymanders and heaps of Republicans win because of it. So too have some Democratic states. Yes, this will have a marginal effect in 2014 and beyond. This isn’t news to LGM readers. But the brilliance (or desperation) evident in this admission as a means of distracting attention from the larger sin is worthy of note. I understand just enough US Constitutional Law to know when I’m wading into the deep end (and to offer my students at an English university three weeks worth of lectures as an introduction), and this has me curious — cunningly clever or desperately clutching?

Obviously the argument “we might be wrong, but we were way, way wronger in the 1950s and 1960s” shouldn’t fly. However, where race is a protected class, partisanship is not. Can Texas get away with the ‘race as unfortunate collateral damage in our war against the Democratic Party’ argument?

This Week in Misogyny, England Edition

[ 152 ] August 7, 2013 |

On Monday, a 41 year-old man, who admitted guilt on “two counts of making extreme pornographic images and one count of sexual activity with a child”, was sentenced Monday regarding the latter crime of sexually abusing a 13 year-old girl in London’s Snaresbrook Crown Court.

There are several shocking aspects of this episode. First, my liberal use of the word “sentenced”. The judge sentenced the admitted abuser, Neil Wilson, to a mere eight months in jail. However, believing this too harsh, suspended the sentence for two years, commenting that “the girl was predatory and she was egging you on.”

The girl, 13. The abuser, 41.

But wait. There’s more.

One of the barristers arguing the case claimed the following about the victim: ”The girl is predatory in all her actions and she is sexually experienced.”

This might have been expected from, say, a defence attorney. However, the barrister making that claim represented the Crown Prosecution Service. The prosecuting attorney. The guy representing the state, society, and the 13 year-old victim.

When explained in those terms, the predator is a 13 year-old girl. The defenceless victim, a 41 year-old man. The guilty party was probably lamenting investing cash money in defence counsel, seeing as how it was completely redundant.

When a judge, and the barrister representing the state, undermine the case of a 13 year-old victim because she’s, well, a girl, it simply reaffirms what we already know: institutionalised misogyny is well entrenched in British society.  To quote Polly Toynbee in today’s Guardian:

But underlying attitudes revealed in this case lift the lid, yet again, on the depth of misogyny in this society – all the women-hating, woman-blaming, woman-fearing instincts that can reach right to the top. How easy if it were just that handful of sad misfits exposed for sending threatening rape-tweets to feminist campaigners. But it’s everywhere, ready to break out of an all-too-thin carapace of what its perpetrators call “political correctness” keeping it in check.

Legally, morally, the 13 year-old victim is innocent. Period, full stop. Yes, the age of consent in England is 16, and presumably, it’s possible for a 13 year-old to appear 16, and . . . who the fuck cares? The adult is supposed to be in possession of judgment. The child is legally and morally innocent because she is not expected to have a similarly developed sense of judgment.

It should really be that simple.

That the representatives of the state — those presumably on the side of civility and of the victim — explicitly and grotesquely critiqued the 13 year-old victim for leading the defenceless adult man astray is shameful. To close with Toynbee:

We know nothing about this girl, but we know one big thing: children are innocent. Children cannot give consent to their own abuse, below the age of 16. We can surmise what “experience” this girl may have had before, what abuse or neglect the judge and lawyers didn’t bother to delve into. There have been so many cases where we know who the vulnerable children are, lacking adult affection and attention, seeking it with the only thing that makes an adult notice their existence – sex. But the idea that a 13-year-old was a “predator” and a 41-year-old man just her victim sweeps all that away.

While on this happy subject, here’s Amanda Marcotte on sexual harassment in the skeptic/secularist/science education movement.

Burrowing Out of Hibernation, Jetlagged Saturday Sporting Edition

[ 43 ] August 3, 2013 |

The Ashes As it’s my role here to spearhead LGM’s cornering the “progressive blogosphere market on cricket commentary” (as per our FAQ), my absence is letting the team down. I was able to follow the first two tests of the series, but only sporadically the current match.

England were highly regarded as likely winners of the 2013 Ashes, and currently hold a 2-0 advantage in the series. Given the rules governing the “winning” of this cricket series, all England have to do in order to retain the trophy is draw a single match of the remaining three. Which is good, as they’re struggling mightily in the third test. Australia scored 527 for 7 (declared) in their first innings, while England have only managed to reply with 294 for 7. In declaring with three wickets remaining, Australia signalled extreme confidence in winning this test. Today, an increasingly rare century by Kevin Pieterson has given England faint hope for a draw. To accomplish that they need to hope that they can spin out the 23 remaining wickets over two days, and this assumes that they manage to avoid Australia forcing the follow-on. The second test, July 18-22, was relatively boring. England held Australia to only 128 runs in their first innings, declared after seven wickets in their second, and ultimately won by 347 runs. Following the second test, the English media featured stories crowing about the possibility of a 5-0 whitewash, save for the occasional “erm, hang on” such as this piece by England wicket-keeper Matt Prior arguing that Australia are somehow invincible in the third test of a series. It appears that Prior’s bizarre hypothesis is receiving support.

The first test, however, featured history and drama (and several other lazy cliches as well). Ashton Agar, playing in his first test match for Australia at 19, scored 98 runs in the first innings. This would be merely noteworthy for the debutant, but he did it from the number 11 position in the batting order, and set the test cricket record for runs scored as the number 11 batsman. There are 11 to a team in cricket, and like baseball, usually the least good batter gets the final spot in the order. A very rough analogy would be for a pitcher in a National League game (or ballpark in this day and age of interleague play) to hit for the cycle with a grand slam, but this analogy only works if it’s never been done before. I haven’t done the research to know if it has. Regardless, Agar did not bat 11th in the second innings.

England began the fifth and final day of the first test with a lead of 137 runs, needing only four wickets to secure victory against Australia’s 8th through 11th order batsmen. What at first seemed impossible became progressively in sight for Australia as the ineffectiveness of the England bowling attack allowed the “tail end” of the batting order to score runs with ease. Then, with England only needing one wicket, while Australia were only 20 runs behind, the bizarre that only cricket can produce happened. They broke for lunch. They had played for the better part of five days, scored 1,152 combined runs, the end of this marathon was in sight, and . . . lunch. Again, to make a rough baseball comparison, it’s the bottom of the ninth, the home team down by one, bases loaded, two outs, and the pitcher is batting. Let’s take a break? Seriously?

Somehow lunch did the trick, as Australia only managed six more runs before surrendering their final wicket.

Clint Dempsey I woke this morning at 530 PDT to strange rumors. Seattle Sounders FC were going to sign Clint Dempsey from Tottenham. Dempsey is probably the best player on the USMNT at present, at the peak of his career, well regarded in England, and has demonstrated his ability at the highest level in five and a half seasons at Fulham plus the one at Spurs. Initially, I didn’t understand this move from either perspective. Spurs only just signed him a year ago for £6 million, and he was a regular feature in their starting XI. From Dempsey’s perspective, while I’m more generous in my assessment on the level of play in the MLS than a lot of people, why would one want to take that step down at this point in his career? Only a year ago, Spurs, Aston Villa, and Liverpool were competing to sign him from Fulham.

Then it started to make sense. Spurs have agreed a fee for Spain international striker Roberto Soldado from Valenica for £26 million, in addition to Brazilian midfielder Paulinho (Corinthians, £17 million) and Belgian winger Nacer Chadli from FC Twente for £7 million. Dempsey’s playing time suddenly looks to be attenuated as Tottenham played him in both a winger and striker role. With Brazil 2014 only a year away, he needs to play. And, in addition to the roughly $9 million MLS record transfer fee, the Sounders are reportedly going to pay Dempsey $8 million per season over a four year contract — another MLS record.

As a supporter of both Seattle and Arsenal, I’m pleased with this move. As a supporter of the USMNT, I’m not. Dempsey should play in a better league (but then, too, so should Landon Donovan).

42 Finally, on the flight from LHR to SFO yesterday, my wife woke me when 42 came on the screen. I rarely watch what’s shown on the plane, but as a fan of baseball, cinema, and baseball*cinema, I watched. It was mediocre: slow, boring, thin saccharine sentimental crap. This review from the CSM sums it up best: “given the full halo treatment” and “the filmmaking is TV-movie-of-the-week dull and Robinson’s ordeal is hammered home to the exclusion of virtually everything else in his life.”

That said, two things about the film were superb. First, the CGI rendering of the old ballparks is stunning (Ebbets of course, but also Shibe, Crosley, and Forbes). Stunning to me at least, who has really only experienced these parks through the several books on ballparks that are in my library, pictures, and various clips. Second, and a pleasant surprise, is John McGinley’s turn as Red Barber. I’ve heard clips of Barber calling games, and watched Game 7 of the 1952 World Series on YouTube’s MLB Classics. He was also on Morning Edition every Friday until he died in October 1992; I was a regular listener. It’s difficult to forget Jenny Newtson’s announcement of his death one Friday morning on KLCC (yes, I had the “experience” of living in Eugene for a year in 1992) following several weeks worth of Barber’s absences on Morning Edition. I also bought Fridays with Red by Bob Edwards (and had Edwards sign it). McGinley’s performance in that role gives some vitality to what are essentially second-hand experiences of Barber.

Adendum of Questionable Relevance I’ve been away from here for a couple months, as a lot happened in a short period of time.  The house I’ve owned in Plymouth for nine years finally sold; after a series of desultory offers, I finally accepted a good one in May. I’ve had about 15 odd lodgers in there over the years, which resulted in a lot of work to get it ready and a lot of junk that I didn’t recognise yet inherited. A three week visit by my wife and step daughter (who live in Oregon) coincided with the finalization of the sale, so she was able to help with the packing and moving to the new flat.

Second, I served at the officiant at the wedding of dear friends in Corvallis, Oregon in early July. It was the greatest honor I’ve had, and the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to write or deliver. But at least my formal title is now Reverend Dr., and once that knighthood or peerage comes though, I’ll have the trifecta.

Last, eerily demonstrating the prescience of this post of mine from March,[*] my home institution announced a radical restructuring in May of how we deliver our curriculum, university wide, beginning Autumn 2014. I’d love to write about this development, but it’s perhaps not in the interests of my continued employment to take this on at the present time. It did help inspire me to stand down as “programme manager” of the undergraduate program after seven years in that administrative role.

[*] A couple months ago, in the pub, a colleague from a different department mentioned having read the post linked above, and noted approvingly that I didn’t specify my home institution (but it’s not like it’s, you know, a state secret difficult to obtain). He said that the post perfectly described the management motivation for this new curriculum delivery initiative. Which is sad, in a way.

North Carolina

[ 60 ] May 12, 2013 |

Two articles on North Carolina came to my attention this morning. First, it appears that NC is convulsing with the same sort of protests that ground Wisconsin to a halt and led to sweeping progressive change:

Raging grannies, student groups, professors, internationally known physicians, historians, members of the NAACP, all are coming together to protest at the General Assembly of North Carolina and to place themselves at risk of arrest. Acts of civil disobedience have swept Raleigh, the state capital, and are planned to recur well into the future. Blame it all on the Tea Party.

Four months ago, Tea Party candidates took over the state government–both chambers of the General Assembly, as well as the governorship. Together, the newly elected office holders have been hellbent on eviscerating every social program they can get their hands on in the name of doing “the people’s business.”

I don’t consider myself an expert on protest politics, but I do include a section on it in a class I teach. What I know is that protest politics are good at raising the visibility of an issue (or basket of related issues), and might nudge public opinion. In the American context, that’s usually the best result one can aspire to. What it almost certainly will not lead to is the Pollyannish cheer leading from the article linked above:

What’s happening in North Carolina–and that it’s happening in North Carolina–may be the greatest sign of hope this country has seen in a long, long time. If there is a groundswell there, one just might be building that’s powerful enough to sweep the entire nation.

That won’t happen.

The second article outlines the events and actors that led to the Tea Party assuming control of North Carolina in the first place.

Cash from groups backed by the Koch brothers and others helped North Carolina Republicans build a robust conservative infrastructure and fundraising network, leading to the GOP winning both the governor’s mansion and the state legislature in the same year for the first time since Reconstruction.

That takeover didn’t come overnight, but it caught Democrats by surprise, especially since Barack Obama carried the state in 2008 and lost only by 2 percentage points last year.

I question the direct causal claim implied above, and a) “carried the state” is perhaps a bit sweeping for a 0.32% plurality, but b) the money, organisation, and, well, the money definitely helped at the margins. North Carolina was always going to be a hard sell for Obama in 2012, but the changes at the state level do appear to be historic.

I’m sympathetic to protest politics, and understand the dynamics that lead to it as an expression of (small d) democratic participation. I’ve even participated in a few out of solidarity. Did those protests make any difference in policy? No. Did Wisconsin? No. Will North Carolina? No. In order to have a chance at making a difference where it really matters in terms of policy outputs, ground level organisation and money are required. This isn’t nearly as romantic or visible as a good protest, but it stands a better chance of actually, you know, working.

Black Turnout

[ 28 ] May 9, 2013 |

The story has been floating around the past few days, but it’s been confirmed with the release of a report yesterday from the US Census (specifically the Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Supplement).  African Americans voted at a higher rate than the (non-Latino) white population for the first time in 2012. Turnout among the black population was 66.2%, and the non-Latino white population 64.1%.  I’ve skimmed the report, and I’ll read it with greater attention tonight or tomorrow morning, and hope to have some more to say about it.

When we consider all the barriers both attempted and actually erected in the name of suppressing minority turnout fraud prevention,this is pretty remarkable. More so when we consider that for each percentage point increase in a state’s black population, the average wait increased nearly half a minute at the polls; nationally, Latinos and African Americans waited an average of 20.2 minutes, while whites 12.7 minutes.

(Sir) Alex Ferguson

[ 57 ] May 8, 2013 |

is finally retiring. Ferguson has been rumored to be retiring for over a decade now, and I can still recall the sure bet that it was about ten years ago for Celtic manager Martin O’Neil to take over United. Being a right thinking individual, and an Arsenal supporter, I’m not a fan of Manchester United, like I’m not a fan of the New York Yankees. Likewise, I don’t really like Ferguson. However, it’s difficult to ignore the results. What he did with both Aberdeen in the 1980s, and United since 1986, is pretty remarkable. While the Aberdeen side he took over were sporadically competitive, he broke the Old Firm monopoly with three titles in eight seasons, capped by a (now defunct) European Cup Winners Cup victory over Bayern Munich in 1983. In 1986, Man U had last won the league title in 1966/67 (and the European Cup in 1968, one year after Celtic became the first British side to win it, mind), and were even relegated at the end of the 1974 season. When Ferguson was hired, they were 21st in the league. It would take seven seasons before United won their first title under Ferguson in 1993, which indicates a patience not typical in the present day. Including 1993, United have won 13 league titles, two European Cups (in the guise of the UEFA Champions League), five FA Cups, and four League Cups. In short, United under Ferguson have been consistently more annoying than the Yankees.

Yeah, he’s been annoyingly successful. More interesting is comparing that success. The media here on this island are lauding him as the best British manager ever, and they might be right. Major trophies include 16 league titles, nine FA cups, five league cups, two European Cups, and two Cup Winners Cups, as well as a series of minor European and domestic trophies. I don’t have the time to do a comprehensive review, but the competition that comes to mind include Bob Paisley (only six top flight titles, no FA cups, but three European Cups), Matt Busby (5, 3, and 1), and Jock Stein (10 and 8, but all in Scotland, and one European Cup). It gets a little more competitive (and complicated) when comparing Ferguson internationally.  Ferguson is one of 17 managers to have won the European Cup twice (the record remains Paisley’s three). I’m curious if anybody has replicated his sustained success both domestically and in European (or the relevant regional association) competition. The names I’m coming up with all seem to fall short somehow. Rinus Michels (four Eredivisie, one LaLiga, one European Cup, one European Championship, one World Cup funner-up), del Bosque (the World Cup, European Championship, two Champions Leagues, but only two LaLiga titles). Trapattoni? Maybe Hitzfeld (seven Bundesliga titles, two Swiss titles, and winning the Champions League with two different clubs)? What is clear is that if Real Madrid could have stuck with one manager for longer than five minutes at any point in their career (especially the late 1950s) Ferguson would have clear competition. And the next generation have a couple candidates that, if they replicate his longevity, might likewise compete (Guardiola and Mourinho specifically). But such longevity is rare; Johan Cruyff, who is five years younger than Ferguson, hasn’t managed a club since 1996.

A couple interesting facts about Ferguson — his first managerial job was at the mighty (and this past season, peer of Rangers) East Stirlingshire, subject of a very good book about quite possibly the worst professional team in Britain: Pointless. Second, his first match in charge of Man United? A 2-0 loss at Oxford United, who are currently settled in the fourth tier of English soccer.

SC-1 Special Election: Sanford vs. Colbert Busch

[ 77 ] May 7, 2013 |

This is relevant to very few people outside of the 1st Congressional District in the state of South Carolina.  The district has a PVI of R+11 (I’m surprised that it’s that low), has been represented by Republicans since January 1981, and voted +18 for Romney. That the word “competitive” ever enters the discourse on this race speaks volumes about the quality of the Republican’s Appalachian Trail candidate (due in court two days following the election) who must “rise from the ashes” in order to win. Most of the analysis really goes out on a limb in a) predicting a low turnout election, and b) the candidate who mobilizes their support best is more likely to win. In anything other than a Presidential election, that usually can be interpreted as “not the Democrat”.

Regardless of the idiosyncrasies of the candidates, the structural conditions favor a Republican blowout. The best electoral context for Democrats in this district in recent times was in November, and Democrats got hammered. Any decline in turnout will impact the two parties asymmetrically; a May election in an odd year is the worst possible case for Democratic turnout. However, even though the polling has been all over the map on this one, it’s currently (according to PPP) a one point Sanford lead. That Colbert Busch might win is remarkable, but I’m not betting on it. Even if she does win, she’d likely be one of the first Democrats to fall in 2014.

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